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Stories and inspiration to help you keep the memories of your loved ones alive

Faith & Grief (Part 3): The Why’s of Grief

Why is grief so hard?  Each grief is different, but a particular question often occurs in some form as one confronts the loss of a loved one -Why did this happen?  Why him or her?  Why me? Why now?  Why in that way?  It may be momentary, but more often, such questions persist far too long, often hidden in the recesses of the mind.  Their continuing pulse can disrupt one’s work through grief and leave a person in a ‘stuck’ place.  A previously secure faith and the balm it could provide seem blocked and prayer seems empty.  Why is often a faith question.

From the beginning of our Faith & Grief Gatherings, we have asked our ‘speakers’ (everyday people, working through their own grief) to address the question, how do your faith and grief intersect?  One man said -   “Intersection?  For me, it was more like a collision!”  In that, he expressed what I have heard from many – grief confronts what we have believed since we were children and forces us to look at our faith in new ways.   Much like Job, many of us find ourselves having to learn to listen to something deeper than our friends’ flawed advice as we learn to trust ourselves and allow God to comfort us.  But first, we need to be heard.

Parting With a Loved One’s Belongings

After a loved one dies we are often assigned the task by circumstance or desire of clearing out their home and getting rid of their things. The task can seem overwhelming: What do I do with all of this stuff? How do I know what to keep and what to get rid of?

If someone you love has died as a result of an overdose, your grief experience will be even more complex, and it can be complicated by the factors surrounding your relationship with your loved one, the way in which they died, and the responses you receive from others in your life. Complicating those “expected” grief emotions might be intensified anger – at your loved one; at yourself; at friends or family who ignored or enabled your loved one’s substance use; at medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies; or at people in your loved one’s life who supplied drugs or supported their substance use. Similarly, the sadness commonly felt after a death loss may feel more overwhelming due to the sudden and traumatic nature of an overdose death, while the loneliness many survivors experience could become isolating if your grief is unrecognized or unsupported.

How we remember a loved one is both a reflection and part of the grieving process. At a funeral or life celebration, our spoken remembrances are often shaped by social etiquette which dictates that only funny or touching or positive memories be shared. For those closest to the deceased, these remembrances can sometimes feel at odds with recent memories of the suffering our loved one experienced at the end of life, a suffering we may have vicariously experienced with them.

When someone we love has experienced a loss, we may struggle to communicate our support effectively. Often, my undergraduate students as well as attendees at workshops approach me with their stories of grieving loved ones, culminating with statements such as, “I didn’t know what to say to help,” or “I had such a hard time finding the right words.” It is unsurprising that many of us might feel stumped sometimes in verbalizing our support to grieving loved ones, because we ourselves may not have received helpful communication during our own experiences of loss. We might lean on “sympathy scripts,” such as “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “thoughts and prayers,” while recognizing, with a feeling of discomfort, how little support these scripts may provide to grievers.

I’m a longtime grief counselor and educator, and as you might expect, I talk to lots of people about all kinds of life losses. In recent months I’m hearing that COVID-19 has become a daunting challenge for just about everyone. Not only have stay-at-home and work-at-home protocols isolated people physically and socially, but the uncertainty of illness, financial jeopardy, and an unforeseeable future are making it hard for many to cope. Essentially, people are grieving. Anxiety and depression, especially—which are normal, necessary grief responses—are epidemic. While grief is absolutely natural in the face of these unprecedented circumstances and daily losses, it’s also something that demands compassionate, proactive care.

Digging Up The Roots

When we lose something that was very precious to us, whatever its nature, we grieve. Our grief may be short-lived sorrow or lead to a lengthy period of mourning. The depth of our grief depends on the nature of the relationship that we had with what we have lost, not on who or what that person or thing actually was. We might grieve more for the loss of a dog or cat than a person — it simply depends on the relative contributions made by each to our physical and spiritual well-being.

LGBTQ+ Grieving: Loss, Love, and Pride

While anyone can experience disenfranchised grief – grief that is not openly acknowledged, socially validated, or publicly observed – specific types of death and membership in already-disenfranchised populations can significantly heighten one’s risk of experiencing it. In this way, LGBTQ+ individuals may be doubly at risk for disenfranchised grief.

Finding similarities between your own grief experience and the experiences of others can help connect you in understanding to both the universality of loss, and uniqueness of your own grief journey. Sharing your story can help both you and others heal.